Recently I read another report (thanks to the guys at Welcome to Music) about the benefits of music education for children. This was written by Tom Barnes on 17th February 2015 and appeared in www.mic.com. He cites many sources of research about music and development including a longitudinal study by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013. He quotes,
“Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theatre or dance.”
The same study found that children learning to play an instrument “have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.”
The report goes on to state the many benefits that have been discovered including
- Improved reading and verbal skills
- Improved mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning
- Helped improve grades
- Raised IQ
- Helped learn languages more quickly
- Made you a better listener
- Slowed the effects of aging
- Strengthened the motor cortex
- Improved working memory
- Improved long-term memory for visual stimuli
- Made you better at managing anxiety
- Enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem
- Made you more creative
I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch about ‘multi-purpose Snibbo’ which apparently cures everything from haemorrhoids to cliff erosion. Yes it’s a joke about snake-oil salesmen. This report above sounds a bit like Snibbo. As such, although everything claimed is true, the information needs to be taken with a little grain of salt.
The report implies every child will immediately take to learning to play an instrument and will immediately play very well and as a result, will become a super-human across the board. This is not the case, of course. I am always advocating for good quality music education for every child and once at school, to have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, preferably prior to age 7.
All the claims stated above can be deemed true and when you think about each one of those 13 items, it is obvious why it should be so. Nevertheless, despite the obvious advantages, including social and emotional and the long-term enjoyment of music in all its forms throughout life, one is not necessarily going to become another Einstein or Beethoven, a Fonteyn or a Spitz simply because of having learnt to play an instrument.
The point is not for you to become an exceptional human being but rather for you to become the best human being you can be, to reach your potential in a most pleasing manner, even if, at age 5 or 6 you don’t want to practise and you don’t even enjoy learning to play an instrument. Later on the benefits will overcome any initial resistance and the habit of practice will have been established. Even a small improvement in brain function resulting in a small increase in ability across the board can have an extraordinary effect on one’s results in school and in life. That is the point of the article,
despite the hyperbole.
Why wouldn’t schools want to give every child their best chance? If governments won’t support school music programs, what creative ways can you find for providing it anyway?